Wellness Scout

Maintaining Wellness During the Holidays Step #4: Sleep & Self-Care. No One Can Do It ALL, So Why Should You?

"I'll sleep when I'm dead" is a common phrase that many use to justify moving at 110 mph. Many people wear lack of sleep like a badge or use it as an acceptable excuse for their mistakes. It often justifies that extra cup of coffee or that afternoon cookie, which leads to the cycle of spiking and plummeting energy. Do some people enjoy the high and adrenaline rush of no sleep? Sure. In my twenties I found that I enjoyed the thrill of going out late, getting up after only six hours of sleep, having that jolt of caffeine and a sugary breakfast to propel myself through the day, crash in mid-afternoon, to then wake myself back up with alcohol or more caffeine, rinse and repeat. However, that takes a toll on the body and especially the adrenals (insert article). As we age, we may not continue this exact ritual, but we continue the pendulum swings of energy that's similar to those younger years. Staying up late shopping online, socializing at a holiday party and finishing work are all "adult" excuses for staying up late. After just five hours of sleep, we rise early to either hit the gym or race to work. We have that jolt of caffeine to propel ourselves through the work day (one that often includes spikes of tempting break room treats). That leads us to then crave that 3pm caffeine or sugar fix, followed by working late or post-work drinks and/or shopping. We then race home with no time for dinner to slug down whatever is available or we stay up late trying to be healthy by preparing homemade food. What is sacrificed? Sleep.

After a good night's sleep how do you feel? I usually feel refreshed, alert, focused, able to remember what I thought about the last five minutes and energized throughout the day without crashes.  Quality sleep is essential for optimal health. The effects of insufficient sleep on your health range from damage to restorative bodily activities (e.g., tissue repair, muscle development), decreasing memory capabilities and cognitive function and a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep damages hormone regulation such as appetite control, which ultimately can lead to weight gain. Isn’t that what we are most adamantly fighting against during the holidays anyway? Check out Mind Body Green’s article on how lack of sleep can be connected to weight gain. 
The combination of shortened days and the need to squeeze more hours into the day often force us to sacrifice sleep despite the biological urge to hibernate in the winter months. If you make the alternative choice to sleep regularly or more than you normally would during the holidays, you've accepted to prioritize your body. How do you get more sleep? Here are some quick tips:

  • Go to bed at same time every night 90% of the time. I like to attempt a regular bedtime Sunday - Thursday give or take 15-20 minutes. Friday and Saturday, I try to go to bed within an hour of my weekday schedule. I know from experience that this is difficult. So try it for one week and see how it makes you feel. Maybe that 6am alarm won't seem so jarring on Monday morning if you had kept a more regular sleeping schedule over the weekend. 

  • Don't eat at least an hour before bed and if you’ve had a larger dinner, make sure it's 2-3 hours. Eating before bed disrupts your sleep cycle especially if you don't have a well-oiled digestive system to digest food quickly and absorb the nutrients. 
  • Reduce sugar and alcohol from snacks and drinks in the evening. Sugar raises your blood insulin levels and from experience, I have found it adds to morning grogginess.
  •  Don't focus on electrical devices before bed. This means no email checking, phone looking, texting or online article reading. Try talking with a friend, meditating, or reading an actual book. All of these will reduce the high speed pace in the mind that often keeps racing despite lights off.
  • Try going to bed earlier in the winter & getting up with the sun. Again, we are still mammals at the end of the day and often the daylight is when we naturally wake.
  • Reduce caffeine - we drink it to increase our ability to speed through the day. Caffeine increases adrenaline and depending on the individual can take anywhere from an hour to a few hours to completely leave your system. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime and try to reduce the amount to decrease your overall anxiety level. This will help your body wind down faster.
  •  Exercise- exercise increases homeostasis and the body's ability to regulate all functions. This includes sleep. Try a light meditative, yoga practice in the evening or wear yourself out at an afternoon class so that by the time the evening rolls around, your body is ready and desiring restorative sleep.

The combination of shortened days and the need to squeeze more hours into the day often force us to sacrifice sleep despite the biological urge to hibernate in the winter months. If you make the alternative choice to sleep regularly or more than you normally would during the holidays, you've accepted to prioritize your body. How do you get more sleep? Here are some quick tips. 
In closing, I’d like to mention self-care and taking time for you. Return to those choices to ensure you are working at your optimal level to provide your best self to others. Often we, especially women, put our needs furthest down on the priority list. The effect is often that holiday meltdown of tears, caddy comments, weight gain, and less sleep leading to why we love yet bemoan the holidays. Self-care includes more sleep, not racing around, leaving time to spend on yourself whether it's taking a bath or walk, saying "no" to a party, trying a yoga class vs perfecting that dessert decoration and anything that rejuvenates your body, mind and soul. So I challenge you this holiday season to give the gift of maintaining your wellness by making alternative choices. Although you may not achieve them all, you may find you will enjoy what you choose and those around you will get to enjoy the best version of you.

Wellness Scout

Maintaining Wellness During the Holidays Step #3: Alternatives to Make Your Wellness Choices Easier

Do you feel you are relegated to the same holiday options for meals, gifts, cards and so on? Every year do you encounter the same issues of weight gain, holiday rush stress, dealing with in-law expectations, and too many social engagements crammed into the week and weekend? Some of us can disconnect and not succumb to the holiday brainwashing, while others bemoan it but love it all the same, and some of us embrace it with enthusiasm; rolling up the sleeves to dive right in the day after Thanksgiving, if not before. For the love and hate group, there are ways to address the holidays by recognizing the alternatives and then embracing them.

Consider this list of alternatives for three areas that effect everyone:

  • Encroaching social events: What to make? Will it taste good? How to not go frazzled? If bringing a dish, it’s less stressful to rely on a repertoire of menu items to choose from that includes appetizers, mains and desserts. This relieves the last minute stress of finding the perfect potluck dish to bring or even serve. Remember to have a variety to choose from and pick dishes that fit individuals with different tastes. My husband and I recently moved, which initiated a process of uploading all of my recipes to soft copy form. However, in the midst of this practice, I ended up losing some recipes and when the time came for a pre-Thanksgiving potluck with desserts I was at a loss. This was an unusual situation for me since desserts are my specialty and I am rarely at  a loss. I learned that an easily accessible repertoire of desserts is best for preventing last minute crises, shopping and kitchen snafus. I have a cake, cookie, chocolate, easy, low cost, "wow", & healthy dessert on my list-- all of which I have tried and know will bring a smile to the guests’ faces. Without this alternative, I spend hours picking out the recipe and mulling over which to choose, then I spend the whole day beforehand trying to ensure I get the right ingredients to make it effortlessly and perfectly. Although potluck events culminate in the December time frame, the best way to prepare is to space out your calendar and prioritize. You can't attend them all without sacrificing your sanity.
  • Holiday feasts – Want alternatives to those heavy laden holiday items? Want to conquer the holiday feast without damaging your waistline or energy?  Try bringing healthy alternatives such as dips, spelt/corn or even quinoa based chips as a gluten free alternative. Bring marinated veggies, whole grain based sides and lean meat entrees. Check out recipe ideas here - I'll be adding holiday ones shortly. For desserts, focus on quality and not super sugary items. Clean food (whole, unprocessed) is digested more easily and provides more satisfaction. Everyone loves nuts! Bring a roasted, unsalted mix. When attending that big holiday feast or if you have two of them, don't skip your earlier meals, have a salad instead, eat moderately throughout the day and don’t go to the feast ravenous.  Drink water mainly and if drinking alcohol alternate with water for every drink. I find sparkling water or club soda with two limes is quite crisp and helpful in quenching the need for a refreshing alternative beverage. Leave space on your plate between items as this ensures you don't over pile. If you have several options for a food type (e.g., potatoes) try a golf ball size of each dish or choose one and have a larger portion if it’s a favorite. Remember the holidays are about indulging, but as Andrea Beaman puts it.... it's a "day" not a holi-week and an excuse to go hog-wild.
  • Dealing with in-laws –Who do I visit? Will I anger anyone? Choose the in-laws you will visit. Have that discussion sooner than later with the appropriate individuals. Increase your energy by prioritizing your time and bandwidth. It's not a personal affront to the family member to not spend time with them if the trade-off is to be less chaotic, more centered and less frazzled. Explain how spreading yourself too thin doesn't benefit anyone and leads to scattered conversations, rushing off to next gathering, resentment and a lack of focus on the individual at the time. Set aside time to spend with this family member on another holiday or day. The Thanksgiving holiday is short enough without having to deal with travel delays and traffic. You will have more energy if you build in the time for rest and repose.
  • Chewing - Yes, I said chewing. Chewing has several benefits for digestion, even for regulating your intake of food. Aside from ensuring your food is in smaller pieces for easier digestion, chewing also slows down your eating process. Have you ever tried to chew a piece of food 20 times? Try it especially with meat and see what happens. Check out my guest writer's (DahliMama) realizations after chewing her food several times. For the holidays this is a good practice to slow the ingestion of delightful goodies. Chew slowly making sure you taste every bite. Savor the cookie. Don't chew and talk. Eat as though you will only get one time to try this savory goodie. This tactic also reinforces why I focus on quality food vs fat free, devoid of flavor, artificially enhanced food because the higher quality food creates a greater ability to savor the bites. One alternative to help offset holiday party binging is to chew your food, don't talk while eating (that’s rude) and really enjoy what you are eating. This also stops you from inhaling the inferior quality or items you just don't prefer to chew.
What all of these choices do is provide you the control and power to engage in the holidays at your speed, putting your needs in the driver's seat.  Most importantly, taking control of your choices will provide you with a renewed sense of energy mentally and physically. As we all know, energy is key for the marathon that is the holidays, which leads me to the last step in maintaining wellness during the holidays: sleep and self-care.

Wellness Scout

Maintaining Wellness During the Holidays Step #2: Choices Are In YOUR Control!

In my last piece, I provided a general overview of maintaining wellness during the holidays and discussed the first step: identifying the impediments to maintaining wellness. Step 2 to maintaining wellness is choices. Why? Because maintenance is within your control and your choices dictate how you encounter, decide, and determine what your next move is. Some people like to say, "this is out of my control" and therefore relinquish themselves from the guilt associated with consciously choosing to ignore or stick to our goals. Saying “it’s out of my control” helps us rationalize the situation and relieve ourselves of fault. So first ask yourself, do you really want to be in this position? If so, enjoy and accept the holidays as a wave rushing over you. But please don’t expect sympathy from others when you say you can't control yourself.

This time of year, we often ask ourselves, “what choices do I have?” So many distractions related to the holiday season feel like obligations. They take form in happy hour invites after a stressful work day, stuck in rush hour racing to finish last minute shopping, debating whether to take that 6pm gym class, trying to appease both sides of the family, obsessing over the "perfect" holiday card, passing by the work break room for the 5th time “unintentionally”, the list goes on an on. Basically, choices exist whenever you take an action that creates a situation for a decision. Ultimately these are all choices within your control-- no one is forcing you to compete with holiday shoppers, giving you ultimatums about the holiday parties or forcing you to walk by the cookie laden break room.

All of these activities involve a choice on your part. When you find that you are stressed about certain decisions, consider the following:
  1. What is the benefit if I say “yes”?
  2. What is the con if I say “no”?
  3. Are the results/repercussions worth the enjoyment/immediate gratification that I will gain now
  4. What’s the worst that could happen if I chose to say yes (this relates especially to the family holiday conflict)?

Referring to the impediments mentioned in my last blog – let’s address quickly the choice in each of the examples below.

  • Winter weather deters the motivation to exercise. – Choose to do it less to reduce the pressure. Work out with a buddy or sign up for a paid class to increase accountability. Find an alternate exercise that you will enjoy. After all, working out is supposed to be fun.
  • Daylight savings – Shift your productive hours to daylight hours. Allocate two nights per week to going out in the evening (or whatever time frame that will fit your schedule).
  • More sleep. We need it. It’s winter.  Choose to sleep more or not. If choosing less sleep, realize the repercussions. Check out this recent article from MindBodyGreen on impediments to weight loss with reduced sleep.
  • Encroaching social events– choose those that fit within your schedule to allow you to reach your goals. Weigh the effects if you do or don’t go. Put yourself first. Make a rule – one party during the week and one on the weekend. Leave time to restore.
  • Competition to be the “hostess with the mostess” for holiday get-togethers. The choice here is to be true to yourself and not be defined by others’ perceptions. Choose what is within your means & focus on it. Perfect it. Figure out what you will do the best and make it work for you. You will be surprised at how the authenticity will lead to an even better than expected result.
  • Competition between families – If the dual family holiday takes it toll on you, then communicate that to your family. Holidays are supposed to be about giving, understanding and loving; not guilt tripping when one doesn’t attend an event or family gathering. Your rested self is a lot more attentive, focused and enjoyable when not pulled in several directions. Choose the number of family gatherings you can accomplish without overwhelming yourself.  Your family will appreciate the un-devoted attention you provide. Then next year, choose the other family.
  •  Drink, eat, be merryunderstand when you make a choice to have not, you will have another time. Choose that glass of wine here & not there. Choose to have one dessert as there will be plenty more another time. Choose to pig out because at another party you won’t. It’s within your control.
  • Coworkers & vacation times –Choice at work is difficult since that is one area outside of your immediate and sole control. However, choose to not to be like others and cram too much in. Communicate farther in advance. Preface emails and requests with reminders of the impending holidays. Manage the expectations. Then accept that it will get more hectic as we get closer to Christmas.
  • Traffic –choose a different route, a different time. Maybe early morning, lunchtime or first thing Saturday morning. Shop online. Or make DIY gifts. Put a reminder in your calendar during the summer to scope out gifts. Or try another alternative to gifts, which leads me to Stage 3: alternatives-- understanding alternatives can assist with accomplishing and having choices.

Wellness Scout

Maintaining Wellness During Thanksgiving and the Holidays! - Step #1: Identification

We all bemoan the holiday pitfalls, but love the holidays—at least some aspects of them. October (!) marks the start of a love-hate relationship with articles, blogs, and TV spotlights addressing topics such not over indulging but still enjoying, managing stress during the holidays, remaining active despite other obligations, etc. The holidays bring us more social occasions, Thanksgiving feasts, office snacks, less motivation to work out, time compressed days, less sleep, more drinking & so on. And we’re supposed to indulge in all of it, right? Wellness seems to be highlighted during the holidays almost more than it is during Spring Break. It’s another way to diversify the already over-saturated commercialized market by attracting another niche group: those who know the implications of the holidays on their health. However, wellness should be a yearlong, sustainable process. Daily actions. Incremental changes. Manageable plans and goals. When thinking about maintaining wellness, try not to stress out or think about avoiding party snacks, happy hours, holiday parties, family dinners, the stress of rushing, shopping, and being “ON” 24/7? Who said you had to turn into a super-human, overly generous, overly participatory, and overly achieving individual from just past Halloween to beyond New Year’s Eve? You can still indulge, stick to same activities/routine, have balance, and give into temptations without resenting the results.

To address the stages to maintaining wellness, let’s review the areas of the Thanksgiving holiday that affect us most: the marathon of endurance eating (a.k.a Thanksgiving) and December holiday preparation.
Stage 1: Identifying the impediments to maintaining wellness
  • Winter weather deters the motivation to exercise. It’s easier to hit “snooze” and stay in your warm bed!
  • Daylight savings – That extra hour of sunlight in the morning is great but’s it’s tough at the end of the day. Who wants to be extremely active after work when the darkness ensues BEFORE we even leave the office? It’s easier to sip that juicy red or relaxing cocktail after work with friends in a cozy street lit bar.
  • More sleep. We need it. It’s winter. We are animals. Animals hibernate. Accept it & plan accordingly.
  • Encroaching social events – it’s wonderful to receive invites, but how many do we really need?Competition to be the “hostess with the mostess” for Thanksgiving. Or maybe we are hosting our parents for the first time with our own families – wanting to show Mom you can have thanksgiving just as respectably as she.
  • Competition between families – whose family do we spend the holidays with this year? Both? Driving long distances, traffic, and then two meals. Unfortunately or fortunately, my husband isn’t American so I don’t have this problem but it is one that many of my friends bemoan. Feeling they have to eat their great aunts heavily laden potato dish – both great aunts from both sides along with grandma’s pie & the cousins new trendy fibrous, filling lentil dishes.
  • Drink, eat, be merry – but who is merry when they feel the choice has been pre-determined and out of their control?
  • Coworkers & vacation times – meaning work becomes more intense as everyone tries to finish year-end projects, juggle timelines for meetings between early departures, vacations etc. & complete what’s necessary to take the vacation everyone feels is deserved.
  • Traffic – it seems everyone is on the road – regardless of whether they need to be there. Similar to Ikea on the weekend – does EVERYONE really want that Grundhal or Sonderhamn chair, foldable bin. Does everyone need to shop for that perfect gift, food item simultaneously?

These are just a few of the impediments and I’m sure there are more. The key is realizing these are impediments to maintaining your usual attitude about wellness and then to mitigate the damage caused to your mind, body & spirit.  It’s about maintenance, not trying to be something or someone you are not. Holidays & wellness is about enjoying and savoring what’s important to you. The simple, small pleasures. How?? Well we know step #1 identify & accept. Next, Step #2 – Choices.

Wellness Scout

Chewing - Why it's the new focus of health! - Guest Writer: Dhali Mama

We are told to chew food some large amount of times 30 or 50 before swallowing, or don’t swallow until you have a liquid in your mouth.  Hard to do – yes?

You have heard of “ less is more”?  How about not concentrating on not counting your big chews, but actually chew much less.

Small, small, bites, keep in mouth as if to let it melt.  Chew once, then savor and roll around in mouth, and then chew again, but very slowly not aggressively. Chew only up and down, not sideways.  Swallow slowly.   This will take a long time to eat, thus you will get tired of eating and bored with your food.  This will also allow a lot of time to let your stomach talk to your brain and you will become satiated with far less food. 

Be aware of your body’s natural tendency to crave and be stimulated by sugar and salt.   Therefore the temptation is to let salty and sugary foods make you eat faster and more of them.   It is easier to slowly consume high fiber, fat and complex carbs.  These foods are filling and often more nutrient dense so far less of them will be required. With the act of slow eating, this will naturally cut down the amount of food you will want to eat and your calorie consumption.  

Try to have your meals as traditionally known – complex carbs, protein and some saturated fat.   A small amount of dessert if you will want it at all.   This could be saved for a occasional snack.  However eating in this more discipline manner will often increase the desire to eat much smaller meals or more of appetizers throughout the day.   Do not eat on the run as, obviously, this will only encourage rapid eating.  Thus even if small meal, it should be done at regular meal times and sitting down.   I have found I have less interest in my next meal after eating like this.   And I feel less hungry.   It has become more of eat to live and not live to eat.  The weight has dropped and is easy to keep off.   Thus I don’t concern myself too much about the occasional indulgence and the worry and guilt is taken out of it. 

It is obvious that very crunchy fibrous foods would require much chewing.   Strong chewing can result in more rapid eating, and the visual goal of accomplishing the task may encourage heavy, rapid chewing.   Salads can be healthy, but if not chewed well, then they will pass through digestive system with much absorption.   Raw vegetables are hard to keep in the mouth and savor – they are all about heavy fast chewing. 

Aggressively chewing, big bites, and minimal mastication of food contribute to poor digestion and lack of nutrient absorption.   Aggressive chewing is punishing on the jaws and teeth.    

Give your jaws a break – eat less of salads and tough meat and eat some softer foods that aren’t so chewy, crispy, or hard.

Cooked vegetables, legumes, and stews.  Often soft foods can encourage the slow, rolling around in the mouth.   Soups – one of the best all purpose foods is excellent for this and often hot – to slow you down.    

Chewing meat is quite physical as it doesn't dissolve in the mouth and must be chewed very small.    Very small bites are a necessity.   Once again a deliberate attempt slow consuming of meat will automatically reduce the amount swallowed. That correct “deck of cards” piece of meat will be enough of a task to eat in one meal.   

Grains will start to be digested in the mouth, so they are much easier to hold in the mouth, melting and chewing.   And again, one piece of whole grain bread will be more than enough to tackle.  

Peace & Health 
~ the Dhali Mama